It’s happened to every DM, and now it’s happening to me.

The party of regulars, who had been playing together for about a year and a half, has lost one player (not PC) and is now gaining a new replacement. The PC’s have reached 4th or 5th level, and now I’m faced with the question of how to bring in the new guy.

Introducing the character in a way that the PC’s will find realistic isn’t the problem; if I can’t come up with a rationale for that, I might as well hang up my dice. I’m speaking here about the starting level for the new PC. I’ve gone for 1st as a matter of policy, and I’ll tell you why.

The DMG states that it is acceptable to bring in new PC’s at levels higher than 1st, but it definitely hedges and I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, given the levels of the other PC’s. The combat encounters, while very potentially deadly (several characters have been sent into negative h.p.’s in the last couple of sessions), don’t really involve a lot of single-shot big h.p. soakers so much as tactical situations that pile up a lot of damage quickly, but incrementally. (Meaning, the 1st level PC might go down below 0 h.p., but he won’t be taking 40 points of damage in a single shot for an instant kill.)

I should also point out that I have no problems with killing characters. It’s part of the game. If characters don’t die, then there’s no real challenge, no real tension, and no real excitement. So if the new guy happens to go below the magic -10 h.p. threshold, he’ll roll up a new one and hopefully that one will do better. Hopefully, though, the other PC’s will step in to help prevent that from happening.

1st level characters in a 5th level game also have the advantage that they will advance very quickly, relatively speaking. They won’t be killing rats and orcs, they’ll be going after wererats and ogres (well, not literally). The treasure will be commensurate to the monsters, and the x.p. will thus be higher. He may always be at a deficit in total x.p., but the system is designed so that characters slow down in level advancement as they get higher, so eventually the new PC will reach level parity. Assuming he survives.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

3 thoughts on “Ch-ch-ch-changes!

  1. I’m of the opinion that a 1st Level character, who plays intelligently and understands the dangers of adventuring, will do well with party mates in the 4th-5th Level range.

    Besides, it’s just so much more rewarding for you and that new player when he actually DOES survive and catch up to his party mates at around level 6 or 7. I’d also think he’d earn the respect of his fellow players if such were the case(As long as they don’t begrudge the new guy for basically soaking up EXP while they do the heavy moving).

    There’s plenty a Level 1 character can bring to the fight…flaming oil comes to mind 😉


  2. I have introduced level one characters a good few times into ongoing campaigns. My general opinion is that it works better for some classes than others (a level one magic user may find it tougher going than a level one fighter), and works a lot better when there are low level Henchmen about (so the new player doesn’t feel like the odd one out).

    I have to say that I have not tried introducing new level one player characters directly into parties above sixth level or so.

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